Montane forests in New Guinea

Lower montane forests (up to 1,000m)

  • More species unique to New Guinea compared to lowland forests.
  • Presence of orchids and epiphytes.
  • Where oaks start appearing, 2 descendants of old Gondwanaland trees are also found: the hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) and the klinkii pine (Araucaria hunsteinii).
  • Towards the upper limits of this zone, Elaeocarpus and Sloanea species are more abundant.
  • Threatened because of the area’s use by humans for traditional subsistence agriculture and for logging.
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Mid-montane forests (1,000 to 3,000 m)

  • Dominated by beech (Nothofagus), dipterocarps and conifers.
  • Conifers more abundant above 2,400 m, where they dominate the canopy and emergent tree layers.
  • Presence of hardwoods (e.g. holly (Ilex) and Elaeocarpus), forming vast tracts of mixed forest.  
  • Characteristic plants include lichens and epiphytic mosses.
  • Abundant tree ferns and climbing bamboo (Nastus productus) in disturbed areas.
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Nothofagus, one of the most common trees of New Guinea, usually occurs in groups, on ridge crests and upper slopes. It is rare beyond 2,700 m. Long ignored by loggers because of its hardness, Nothofagus is now logged under the trade name of New Guinea beech.

Upper montane forest (3,000 to 4,000 m)

  • Also referred to as moss forest or cloud forest, with vegetation cover at 20-25 m. At this altitude range, trees are gnarled, crooked and stunted.
  • Compared to mid-montane forests, mosses and epiphytic orchids are scarce.
  • There is dense undergrowth, consisting of tree saplings and tangled roots.
  • Rhododendrons fairly common in this zone.
  • Close to the forest limit (3,900 m in Papua New Guinea, 4,170 m in Indonesia’s Papua province), dominant plant families include heath plants (Ericaceae such as Rhododendron species and Dimorphanthera species) and Epacridaceae (Trochocarpa and Rapanea species).
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Muller, K. 2004. The Biodiversity in New Guinea. Unpublished document.

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